Australia and Palestine: Historical Obligations

 Australian solider talking with a group of Arabs in Palestine, 1918. [Photo with permission from State Library of South Australia, PRG280/1/15/1072.]

Australian solider talking with a group of Arabs in Palestine, 1918. [Photo with permission from State Library of South Australia, PRG280/1/15/1072.]

The above photo shows a group of Palestinians talking to an Australian soldier. The Palestinians in this shot were originally designated simply as Arabs. Israel still prefers to designate Palestinians as Palestinian Arabs or Arab Israelis. The soldier from his hat, spurs and pistol is evidently an officer of the Australian Light Horse. Horse lines can be discerned in the distance. The photo comes to AFOPA gratis from that great public institution, the State Library of SA.

The Australian Light Horse participated in the conquest of Palestine in 1917 and 1918, winning battle honours at Beersheba which opened the road to Jerusalem and later destroying the Turkish forces in northern Palestine at Megiddo, near the site of the 15th century BC Egyptian victory over the Palestinian Canaanites at the Battle of Armageddon. An historically pretty accurate depiction of the action at Beersheba can be seen in the Australian movie, The Light Horsemen. It is outside the purview of the film to mention that General Allenby, after whom the Adelaide suburb of Allenby Gardens is named, used chemical weapons in the form of mustard gas against Turkish troops in 1917 in his push to force the Gaza-Beersheba line in southern Palestine, according to internationally respected journalist Robert Fisk. As pro-Zionist US historian Barbara Tuchman has noted, the British arrived in Palestine with the Bible and the Sword, the title of her book on the topic. They did so with Australian military assistance. Accordingly, Australia has historical obligations to the Palestinians as a consequence of the British Mandate.

The other main consideration in respect of Australian historical obligations to the Palestinians derives from the work of Herbert Vere Evatt, Foreign Minister in the Curtin and Chifley governments of 1941-49. Evatt had a hand in drafting the United Nations Charter and pursued an independent, non-aligned foreign policy. He sat on the United Nations Security Council, and chaired in the Second Session of the United Nations General Assembly a special committee on Palestine. He was President of the Third Session of the General Assembly from September 1948 to May 1949. According to Professor Bolton, author of Evatt’s profile in the Australian Dictionary of Biography, Australia’s influence helped bring about the partition of Palestine, as a consequence of which blood and tears continue to flow. Evatt and the Australian Labor Party were proud of the nation’s role in the creation of the State of Israel after the Holocaust of European Jewry, as indeed were most on the Australian left, including the progressive historians Brian Fitzpatrick and Manning Clark. Also in virtue of these considerations some redress is due the Palestinians from Australia.

By Dr David Faber, Adjunct Senior Lecturer, Flinders University, 28 March 2013.